Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Digging out

Saskatoon was hit with a substantial snowfall of 30 cm over the weekend, and we are still digging out. Since school and city buses aren't running , my husband has been driving us all through a quagmire of snow over the last three days. As I was looking at this slide from John Pederson yesterday (made by Saskatchewan's own, Dean Shareski), I realized that the trudging I have been doing inside my work and in the great outdoors is eerily connected.

Many divisions in the province still operate using an 80s-90s mentality about technology. (Solomon and Schrum, 2007) lay out the shift to Web 2.0 this way:
  • Application based to web based
  • Isolated to Collaborative
  • Offline or in labs to online anywhere
  • Purchased to free online
  • Single creator to multiple creators
  • Proprietorial/copyrighted to Open source or shared content
The implications of this shift are far reaching and difficult for school divisions to make. However, by looking at this list, it is clear which world view is closer to student engagement and life long learning.

This week (close to a year after we decided to), we are finally opening our filters to allow access to web 2.0 applications for students in our high schools. It has been a really difficult transition. We are worried about safety, digital footprints, bandwidth - all the things that could be problems in this new reality.

I contend we are thinking about it wrong. Let's try the metaphor of the school bus here. In order to travel in the winter we need to keep roads clear, we need certified drivers, we need safety protocols, permission forms and a massive communications infrastructure. But no one says we should not bus kids to school. We understand that as a reality.

Web 2.0 is our magic school bus. Like Miss Frizzle's class, our kids need to be warned about dangers, but they also need to do it for themselves in order to really understand it. We need to teach kids to use web 2.0 tools safely, because they are using Web 2.0 now and will continue to. Thinking about and teaching information and media literacy is just smart teaching in the 21st century.

But, it is bigger than that. A school bus can only travel a short distance from the school. Virtual field trips, simulations, gaming, blogging and wikis have a travel radius that spans the globe. The opportunities for web 2.0 learning vastly exceed those offered by the school bus, but the smaller barriers are still too immense for use to feel safe venturing out.

We are snowed into a 80s-90s view of technology because schools are slow to change. Teachers and administrators are careful people. But like this snow storm, the perfect storm of Web 2.0 technologies is not a choice. It is here.

We can be snowed in.

Or we can we can help our neighbors shovel out, go tobogganing, and remember that all this precipitation will grow our crops this summer.


  1. A fantastic way to view adversity.

    Regarding your analogy: In a snow storm I can still choose to go outside, regardless of what other people say. Teachers and students aren't that lucky. The internet is a permission only doorway to its many helps and harms. No one in post-secondary is being protected from anything by locking down the internet. Check that my mittens are on and let me go build something.

  2. "Permission only doorway" is a super phrase. I think the fact that some educators aren't sure where it goes and it keeps changing makes it more science fiction than that. Maybe it's a portal. . .